Teaching Happiness Skills To Depressed Caregivers

The caregivers of dementia patients experience high stress compared to other caregivers. Here are eight skills to help them find happiness in their troubled times.

There are nearly 16 million caregivers of dementia patients in the United States who are unpaid.

As per reports, dementia caregivers suffer from higher levels of stress than any other unpaid caregivers. Research by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs confirmed 33% of dementia caregivers struggle to maintain their health.


Dementia Caregivers And Depression

It can be too overwhelming to take care of dementia patients.

Besides mental and physical stress, they can also be subject to financial stress. In fact, 60% of dementia caregivers have reported financial problems due to their caregiving role. All in all, caring for someone with dementia can be a long, stressful, and emotionally taxing journey.

There isn’t any cure for dementia or Alzheimer’s yet. There are only limited treatments available for the symptoms.

Thus, most of these patients rely mainly on caregiving. Proper caregiving can make a huge difference in the life of someone who is suffering from dementia. But at the same time, the caregiver also needs to pay attention to their mental health.

A study in the Alzheimer’s and Dementia journal said mindfulness and happiness training could ease a caregiver’s stress.

Let’s learn more about this study.

Happiness Training In Dementia Caregivers

The study was published as: Teaching happiness to dementia caregivers reduces their depression, anxiety.

The emotional demand of caring for people with dementia is high. A study suggests caregivers can reduce their stress through happiness training. In short, it suggests they focus more on the positive sides of their experiences.

A team of researchers carried out a study to understand the impact of happiness training for caregivers.
The study’s lead author, Judith Moskowitz, said:

Caregivers often encounter high rates of depression, stress and burden.

They zeroed in on an online program of six sessions to improve the anxiety levels of caregivers. This was a program developed by the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern University. It intends to teach the caregivers how to cultivate positive emotions so that they can cope better with the high demands of their work.

After the research, Moskowitz said,

The program describes a set of eight skills that help you gain more positive emotions daily.

The Study

This program wasn’t about making the caregivers believe they shouldn’t have negative emotions. Instead, it was about helping them realize it’s okay to have periods of positive emotions as well.

The intervention by Moskowitz and her colleagues was to teach skills that can increase positive emotions.

Here’s how the intervention was carried out:

  • The researchers recruited 170 dementia caregivers. They assigned them to one of two groups randomly — the intervention group and the control group.
  • The intervention group was taught positive emotional skills like identifying a positive event daily and keeping a gratitude journal.
  • In the control group, volunteers filled out regular questionnaires about their feelings and emotions. After six weeks, the members of the control group were also given the intervention.
  • Both groups were asked to fill out questionnaires about anxiety, depression, and stress at the beginning and the end of the six-week study period.
  • Finally, researchers compared the completed questionnaires before and after the training from both groups.

The Results

Researchers found the volunteers from the intervention group showed a 7% drop in depression symptoms and a 9% drop in anxiety symptoms.

At the start of the study, the intervention group had moderate symptoms of depression. But after the intervention, Moskowitz said, they showed much fewer symptoms of depression.

Those in the control group, however, showed a moderate degree of depression both before and after the intervention.

The six sessions of the training given to the intervention group were called LEAF. It stands for Life Enhancing Activities for Family Caregivers. A facilitator presented it through a web conference call on tablets.

8 Happiness Skills To Train The Dementia Caregivers

Caring for dementia patients is a deed of kindness. It is also an act of love. But it can also be anxiety-ridden and energy-sapping.

A Stanford University study found, 40% of caregivers die due to stress-related illnesses before the patient dies while taking care of people who have Alzheimer’s.

This is where happiness training comes into play. Take a look at the skills caregivers must focus on to make the most of the happiness training program.

Happiness Skill #1. Identify A Positive Event Each Day

Melissa, for instance, loves her husband but finds it challenging to cope with his onset of Alzheimer’s. From being on her guard 24 x 7 to help him with even trivial activities, Melissa often used to get frustrated with her husband.

The program suggested instead of looking at only the downsides, the caregiver could identify some of the positive events each day.

Here’s how they can do it:

  • Try to find one thing that made them, or the one they’re caring for, happy and write it down in their diary.
  • Take note of the positive events when they don’t feel stressed out.
  • Explain how they made that event happen. Repeat it if they want.

Of course, it gets stressful looking after dementia patients. But a caregiver may not ever find happiness if all they focus on are negative incidents. It’s more helpful to recognize at least one positive event each day.

Happiness Skill #2. Share The Event With Someone

Recognizing a positive event isn’t about merely focusing on what they did to make someone happy. It can also be about someone else who made them happy.

The caregiver can share the story with their loved ones and cherish the goodness. Sharing special positive moments with others can help one savor the moments longer.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Writing down all kinds of positive moments in a diary before going to sleep.
  • Mentioning when and how did that moment occur.
  • Writing down who was present there at that moment.
  • Share the moments with friends on social media, and let them talk about the positive moments too.

Writing and talking about positive moments increases positivity and happiness.

The bottom line is, the more one shares, the better they are able to relieve the stress.

Happiness Skill #3. Start A Daily Gratitude Journal

Dementia caregivers often lose hope, and this can cause stress, anxiety, and depression.

One may not notice, but there are several small blessings in life one can be grateful for. Recalling those simple moments can bring great joy.

Reflecting on what one is thankful for before writing it down helps even better to increase their happiness.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Pick a specific time they will be most comfortable thinking about all the things that they are grateful for. Let’s say they decide to write the journal before bedtime. So, think about their whole day and list down all the things they feel grateful for in their journal.
  • Elaborate in detail about a specific thing for which they’re grateful.
  • Write about the people they are grateful for having in their life.
  • They can also think about their past experiences that they feel grateful for. Think about the time they laughed until they cried. Write about those special moments.

They may have trouble writing journals initially. In that case, they can try beginning their mornings with a daily gratitude practice.

They can consider it as a part of the morning ritual. It will boost their energy before they join in the daily grind of their life.

Happiness Skill #4. List A Personal Strength Each Day

Dementia caregivers are looking after people that society usually turns a blind eye to. That is one of the most remarkable strengths they already have.

Focusing on their strengths helps them increase their positive emotions. According to studies, focusing on their strengths lowers their levels of depression and enhances their mental health.

Here’s how to focus on their strengths:

  • Listen to what others say they are good at. If somebody says “Hey, you are a selfless caregiver,” let that sink in. That is their strength.
  • Identify the things they love to do. Say they love to write. So, practice writing because the things they love will eventually become their strength too.
  • Think about the relationship they have with the one they’re caring for. Caring for someone, healthy or sick, is one of the strongest attributes a person can ever have.

Talking or even writing about personal strengths can make them feel healthier and more energized. It will make them feel satisfied with their lives so that they can be more resistant to stress.

Caring for a dementia patient is tiring. But, focusing on their strengths can relieve that stress for them.

Happiness Skill #5. Set An Attainable Goal Each Day

Setting goals can trigger new behaviors. It helps in guiding their focus and helps them sustain the momentum in their life.

At times, caregivers get distracted due to overwhelming stress. That is when setting an attainable goal can help them align their focus and promote a sense of mastery.

Here’s how to set attainable goals for happiness:

  • Think of something that they want to do or achieve. Sort out a plan to attain that goal and work towards it until they meet it.
  • Share their goals with their loved ones. See what they think of it. They can also ask them to encourage them to stick to their goals, no matter what.
  • They can also divide their long-term goal into shorter ones. Say they want to complete an assignment within a week. Their smaller goals would be to complete the introduction first followed by the rest of the sections.

Celebrate whenever they achieve even a small goal. Treat themselves to a delicious pastry or watch their favorite movie.

Research suggests people who set goals are more successful than others. When they set goals, their brain inherently chooses routine over novelty.

Happiness Skill #6. List Ways To Positively Reframe A Stressful Event

In short, we are talking about optimism here. Studies show optimistic people create more positive energy than pessimists.

Life isn’t at all a bed of roses for dementia carers. They have to endure extreme hardships as a caregiver. But they need to consider the brighter side of things too.

How to be optimistic when the chips are down?

  • Stop living in a world of ‘what ifs.’ Instead, start living in the real. Appreciate the chance to learn something new or try to find value in all their experiences.
  • Talk to positive people, and it will have a positive influence on their well-being.
  • Learn to let go of things they can’t get. Most of the time, minor stresses result when they feel out of control.

At times, it may be out of their control to handle the stresses. But, most of the minor ones can be positively reframed if they put in some effort.

There’s no point running away from their responsibilities even if they are stressful. What they can do is learn to de-stress and turn the tension into positive energy.

Happiness Skill #7. Understand Small Acts of Kindness

As per research from Emory University, kindness causes the pleasure points of their brain to light up. Thus, random acts of kindness can make them feel happy unknowingly. Being kind also increases the production of serotonin, which is an organic anti-depressant.

Here’s how to show small acts of kindness:

  • Give genuine compliments to their loved ones and even strangers.
  • Gift flowers or give a warm bear hug to the person who has dementia.
  • Make a simple birthday or Thank You card for their loved ones.

Say, they are stuck in traffic for twenty minutes. Another vehicle joins them, and the passengers seem to be in a hurry. So, they can try to let them cut in front of them when the signal turns green.

Kindness is also linked to contentment and happiness at spiritual and psychological levels.

Happiness Skill #8. Practice Mindfulness

Caregivers should pay attention to daily experiences and conduct a 10-minute breathing exercise daily. Focusing on their breath can help them be present in the moment.

Studies have found that the practice of mindfulness can reduce levels of cortisol or the stress hormone.

What are the ways of practicing mindfulness?

  • Find a place or space to sit that is calm and quiet.
  • Choose a time during which they will be practicing the exercise. They can choose 5 or 10 minutes initially.
  • Pick a posture their body is most comfortable in. It can be cross-legged or in the lotus position.
  • Follow the rhythm of their breath as they inhale and exhale.
  • Whenever their mind wanders, return their attention to their breath within a few seconds.

It’s a busy world for caregivers. They may do the laundry while keeping an eye on the dementia patient and another one on their kids.

They may end up losing their connection with the present moment in a rush. Relax for a while, meditate and focus on their breathing while doing that.

Here’s our definitive mindfulness guide: Mindfulness In 7 Steps (Free PDF)

Final Words

Caring for a loved one suffering from dementia isn’t easy. But it is also worth doing for the ones they love. These skills can help them deal with their stress.

Working on acquiring these happiness skills, they will be able to raise their positivity levels.

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Author Bios: Olaila Lee offers assignment help to students. Sandip Roy is a psychology writer, happiness researcher, and medical doctor.

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